By Bob Uphues
More than a dozen Brookfield residents urged members of the village's board of trustees to honor a pair of laws passed last year by the Cook County Board, which raise the minimum wage to $13 by 2020 and allow hourly workers to accrue up to five sick days each year.
Municipalities across Cook County are weighing what to do in advance of July 1 when the county ordinances go into effect. Unless leaders of municipalities vote to opt out of the county ordinances, they will become effective for local businesses on July 1. For 2017, that means the minimum wage in Cook County will rise to $10 an hour from its present $8.25.
"It's the right thing to do morally, ethically and humanely," said Chris Meier, a former library board trustee, who urged members of the village board, under whose PEP Party banner she ran as a candidate in the early 2000s, to support the county ordinances. "Local government is here to take care of its citizens and workers."
Several of those who spoke in favor of the minimum wage and sick day laws, referred to a pair of advisory referenda passed overwhelmingly by local voters in recent years to convince board members that they'd have voter support.
Brookfield voters supported a 2014 advisory referendum asking for a hike in the state's minimum wage, with 73.5 percent voting in favor. Likewise, in a 2016 referendum regarding accrued sick time, 83 percent of Brookfield voters favored that measure.
"We see there is clearly widespread voter support in Brookfield for both of these critical ordinances," said Brookfield resident Mitzi Norton, who urged elected officials to lead on the issues of fair wages and accrued sick time.
"At a time when our state leaders have not done their jobs, I think it's our job here in Brookfield to stand up for Brookfield workers," Norton said.
Norton stated that most minimum wage earners work full time, principally in the food service industry, and are adults supporting families, not simply teenagers working a summer job.
"We're talking about improving the lives of adults," said Norton, who added the average age of a minimum wage worker is 35.
Members of the village board listened to residents' arguments, but did not offer any positions of their own. President Kit Ketchmark indicated that the village board would discuss the subject again when the matter comes to a public vote, which is scheduled for the village board's June 26 meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Brookfield Village Hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.
However, Ketchmark publicly has supported opting out in the past, saying during the spring election campaign that the county's law pitted communities against one another and that it was more appropriate for the state to deal with minimum wage laws.
That also was the rationale officials in the village of Riverside used when trustees there voted to opt out of the county laws in April. The North Riverside Village Board is poised to opt out of the minimum wage and accrued sick time laws at its next meeting on June 19.
While no one publicly spoke in favor of opting out of the laws at the June 12 meeting in Brookfield, the village's Chamber of Commerce earlier that day sent an email to members asking them to avoid the public meeting and instead make their views known to officials privately.
"We feel it's critical that the village trustees know where chamber members stand on this issue, however we don't feel it's in anyone's best interest to have opposing groups at a public forum, which would only serve to sensationalize the issue and bring more attention to it," the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce's email stated.
That email followed on the heels of a May 8 email from Chamber of Commerce President Todd Hitzeman, which argued against the county laws, claiming that if they pass, businesses would be forced to gradually eliminate local sponsorships of groups such as scout troops and Little League teams.
He also argued that minimum wage jobs "were meant as a starting point for our teenage children to start work" and "as a stepping stone in order to see what path they wished to take."
Hitzeman argued that "we cannot allow Chicago or Cook County Government to dictate business practices and determine how we run our business."
Adam Kader, a Brookfield resident who works as worker center director for Arise Chicago, an anti-poverty organization that pushed for the 2016 county laws, presented officials with a petition in support of the laws (with 105 signatures) and called increasing wages and allowing accrue sick time "investments" in Brookfield.
"As policy makers you all have the responsibility to listen to all stakeholders in the community, not just the most influential stakeholders," Kader said. "Beyond listening to all parties, you also have the added responsibility … to evaluate which of those claims are based in fact and sound research and which of those are based in fears or uninformed positions."